Creativity – Meaning of the word
The meaning of the word “create”, which comes from the Latin, derives from the ancient Sanskrit root KAR, which forms part of the word “crescere” (meaning “to grow”) too. In Sanskrit, KAR-TR is the person who makes something (out of nothing); the creator. The act of creating in Greek-Mediterranean cultures is the exclusive preserve of the gods.
The concept of “creativity” as a human activity of the mind – which has gradually replaced time-honoured concepts like “invention”, “innovation” and “genius” – is very recent and was introduced through Henri Poincaré’s work in epistemology (1854/1912), mathematician, physicist, astronomer and philosopher of science.
During the course of the twentieth century the “creative processes” became the subject of in-depth study in the fields of neuroscience and psychoanalysis. During the forties and fifties in the United States, subjects like Psychology and The Pedagogy of Creativity were developed, and methodologies and psychometric techniques were devised to respond to the needs of industrial productivity and marketing.
The term “creativity” entered the Italian language in the fifties, was used in lots of different contexts in the sixties, and was then applied specifically to the fields of advertising and fashion.
«A new result has value, if any, when, by establishing connections between elements that are known but until then dispersed and apparently unrelated to one another, order is immediately created where chaos seemed to reign [...] Inventing consists exclusively in constructing not useless combinations but useful ones, which are a distinct minority. Inventing means discerning, choosing[...] What is most striking is the phenomenon behind these sudden illuminations, the manifest sign of the long unconscious process that precedes them [...]. A propos the conditions under which this unconscious process unfolds, there is another point worth making: it is impossible, and would in any case remain sterile, if not preceded and followed by a period of conscious effort.
Sudden inspirations [...] never happen without a number of days of voluntary effort which seems at the time completely futile [...]. Among the myriad combinations that the subliminal self has unconsciously formed, nearly all are useless and devoid of interest, and it is for precisely this reason that they exercise no influence on the aesthetic sensibility – the conscious mind will never even know them. Only a handful of these combinations are harmonious, useful and beautiful».
(Jules Henri Poincaré, Science and méthode, Flammarion, Paris 1908; Italian text Scienza e metodo, by Claudio Bartocci, Einaudi, Torino 1997).
In architecture, the quality of the finished product depends on how much the different players contribute: not only the designer, but also the client, the builder, the institutions responsible for finance and control, the surveyors, materials suppliers, service providers, etc. The responsibility for the overall success of a finished project, and therefore its quality, represents a complex interplay between all those involved. And these players, although they share a common purpose in seeing the building complete, are physiologically (and by necessity) in opposition to each other: the very existence of this kind of conflict, and the ordered way it develops, is an intrinsic part of the guarantee of the final quality.
These inherent practical difficulties are hard to manage but good technical competence and an ethical approach provide the solution. There is another essential ingredient, however, and no amount of procedures or norms can regulate this: once the building is finished, it needs to make sense.
Responsibility and freedom in the choice of project
Whether or not a building manages to make sense is something inexplicable that cannot be predicted at the planning stage nor completely understood with hindsight. The chance of it happening is related to the quality of the project, so this is a necessary condition, though not the only factor. This conveying of sense has nothing to do with the design or its intentions; it is something which is achieved only when the collective decides to bestow a gift of meaning on the building, not only by using it, but through a kind of acknowledgement. This is something which the architect can only hope for, and do everything within his or her power to facilitate, but they can never be sure to achieve it nor can they force the nature of things. The architect, however, is, and remains, the only person who can set the process in motion, a process of harmonisation of the collective perception which leads to the bestowing of sense.
Freedom of choice in the project is therefore essential to the quality of the project.
The creative process
The creative process in architecture is achieved only as a collective process, whereby after a long period of voluntary effort on the part of numerous different people (commissioners, financers, designers, builders, users) and after a long period of actual construction to reorganise the environment, there is a moment in which “it happens” (or it doesn’t) and sense is bestowed on the place, i.e. there is collective recognition of a new meaning given to the idea of living there, and the perception of a new form of beauty.
The creative process in architecture is not the pathway followed by the individual architect. However, the process can only start with the creative ability of the architect as catalyst, so the architect needs to be able to create the kind of working conditions which favour his or her creative output.
In architecture today there is a growing phenomenon of hero-worship of so-called starchitects. This exclusive professional elite, closely allied to political and commercial forces, has gained world renown and unlimited power thanks to vast financial resources, the most sophisticated software and exoneration from legal norms. Their financial and economic prowess is referred to by mass media journalists and talk show hosts alike as “creativity” and “genius” in architecture.
We need to snap out of our stupour (which, as the term suggests, is stupid) and see this phenomenon for what it is: the arrogant parading of certain individuals that dazzled and obliging critics and writers have decided to honour with the title of “architect” or even “architectural genius” forgetting that these people are really professional stars of the stage and pseudo-events (Dorfles), advertising icons for the huge multinationals that, with untold cynicism and total disregard for the rules of ethics and aesthetics, are taking over the world.
This unquestioning acceptance of the star system goes hand in hand with a growing disregard for “normal” professionals, who are reduced to the role of “claque”, to that of “users”; downgraded to the status of passive, remote-controlled consumers.
I am not sure that this is the kind of “freedom” or “creativity” that architecture needs.
The phrase “pedagogy of creativity” is an oxymoron (whereby the juxtaposed components of the expression are opposites of each other and therefore incompatible).
The creative process cannot be taught.
What can be taught is a pathway that leads to the creation of personal and environmental conditions which are conducive to a creative event. Certain stages along this pathway cannot be programmed or guaranteed. Accepting the risk of failure is one of the necessary conditions for setting in motion a real process with a real chance of success.
The various stages (the ones that are not guaranteed are in italics):
Attempts at design
Is the discovery of something unexpected and unsolicited when you are looking for something else.
The word “serendipity” was invented by the poet Horace Walpole (1717-1797) when recounting the Persian fairytale about the princes of Serendip (Sri Lanka) in a letter to Horace Mann written 28 January 1754.
“It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table“.
Google and Google Earth, GPS, Wikipedia have rendered obsolete all the tools and methods that we, architects in the Greek and Roman and Renaissance tradition, have learned to use: books, pencils, ink pens, compasses with pen and pencil points, T-square rulers, set squares, slide rules, protractors, compasses, sheets of Bristol board, tracing paper, manuscripts, drawings, pastels and water-colours, and an infinite number of words and concepts. All the most beautiful, precious aspects of our tradition and its inherent wealth.
Today we “draw” using keyboard and mouse, our eyes following lines of light on a liquid crystal screen which form figures with neither mass nor scale. Communication will become progressively more immaterial, information flowing through body masses and knowledge like waves which break up and then re-form according to natural laws of self-generation. People, used to thinking for themselves, are becoming cells in a huge magma-organism comprising not only the whole of humanity but the whole planet (this is James Lovelock’s and Lynn Margoulis’s hypothesis: Gaia, the living planet?)
9. Exercises for the imagination
10. Structures of the Imaginary